Monday, April 22, 2013

Something's Coming... Something Good

I'm officially ready for the next phase of my life. For once, instead of anxiety, I finally have a sense of impending happiness. It's so foreign to me that I'm not even sure how to function. I've been praying for quite awhile that God would show me what the next step is in my journey. I still don't know, to be honest. But I feel like I'm so close to seeing it that if it were a minnow it would be nibbling on my toe in the water. (It's a much better metaphor than 'if it were a snake, it would've bit me', don't you think? No? Well, I like minnows nibbling on my toes, so... yeah.)

I've spent entirely too much of my life attempting to be in control, and it's never put me in a position that I've wanted to be in. Whenever something goes wrong, my first instinct is to try to fix it immediately -- my way. Whenever something is unclear, my first instinct is to figure it out and clear it up -- the way I want it to be. It's taken 36 years, but I've finally realized that that doesn't work. My first instinct needs to be to go to God and ask Him what's next. Not 'How will this end?' Not 'What are the next fourteen things that are going to happen in succession?' and not 'Why is this happening?'

"What's the next step, God?"

Harder than it sounds, believe me. But you probably already know that because we're born wanting what we want when we want it. We're hungry? We cry. We need to be changed? We cry. We're lonely? We cry. We have pain? We cry. It's too quiet? We cry. Then, we get to the age of 2 or 3. We want something? We sneak behind our parents' backs and get it. Then we get in trouble. We're hungry? We shimmy up onto the counter, grab the cookie jar, fall off the counter, break it, and cry. Then, we're teenagers. We want something? We get it. We get in trouble. We yell and slam our door and hole up in our room telling everyone on Facebook how horrible our parents are. We're hungry? We eat an entire pizza and a 2-liter of Mountain Dew and a half gallon of chocolate ice cream and can't sleep and throw up and feel generally bad for about twelve hours. Then, we're in our twenties and we want a significant other, so we compromise our standards and put up with crap we never should have in the name of 'love'. We break up. We cry.

What are we learning?

We're learning that, on our own, we make lousy choices. We follow our feelings and emotions, which lead us to ridiculous places like falling off of countertops and, sadly, sometimes jumping off of bridges. Most of our choices end up in tears because we haven't learned to choose wisely. Which, again, should be simple... if the one choice we always make is to talk to God first, we gain clarity.

We might not like the answer.
It might take a lot of work on our part for the next small step.
We have to give up our desires to focus on His.
It will take a lifetime to achieve the outcome.
We have to take a series of steps, knowing that each time we'll have another one.
We have to retrain our brains to stop being so selfish and egotistical.
We have to be willing to listen and follow.

What happens when we choose to talk to God first?

"Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." --Matthew 6:33.

Go to God first and you'll get the answers you're looking for. He will provide all you need and more. But if you spend your life trying to pursue those things without Him, you'll never find them and, chances are, your choices will end in tears.

Something's coming.  Something good.

Choose wisely.

Stephanie Jean

Friday, April 19, 2013

Tragedy, the Media, and Hope

It's times like these I often have the song "Dirty Laundry" by the Eagles playing in my head: "She can tell you 'bout the plane crash with a gleam in her eyes. It's interesting when people die, give us dirty laundry."

Tragedies such as what we've been recently experiencing are gut-wrenching, emotional nightmares for most of us. We want to be informed, but we don't want to be completely bombarded. It's as though the ratings war is far more important than what we're feeling right now. You cannot turn on the television without flipping through channel after channel of the same pictures, the same dry lines, the same in-your-face lack of emotion as you get the facts... then the new facts... then the speculation... then the interview with someone who knows someone who lives near where the tragedy happened... then the new facts... and the same video clip approximately 457,935 times.

No one is really getting to the heart of the matter, and that's because none of us can pinpoint quite what the heart of the matter is.

Wherever we are across the country, this is affecting us. Boston is a 13.5 hour drive from where I live. I am not living in the fear that the one rogue bombing suspect will break my door down seeking shelter from the manhunt. I am not living in fear that the next thing to be bombed is the horse farm north of my house. I am, for all intents and purposes, safe. Yet, there is a pervasive sense of fear all over the country for a myriad of reasons.

School shootings have hit small towns and big ones. Movie theater shoot-outs have come with no warning. Our own little school systems here in this area have been hit with threats and warnings two years in a row. As 'safe' as I think I am, or hope to be, I'm not. More and more people have been overwhelmed by anxiety lately, and it comes with a good explanation. Anxiety is a sense of impending doom. How can any of us live in this day and age and NOT feel a sense of impending doom?

But what hope is there for humanity? How can we stare into the face of such depravity and muster any hope?

When our senses fail us, when humanity has failed us, when we feel unsettled and overwhelmed, there is nothing left to do but what we should be doing in the first place, and that's to turn to the promises that are given to each and every one of us.

2 Peter 1:4 begins our hope by saying, "...These are the promises that enable you to share His divine nature and escape the corruption of the world brought on by human desires." That's what we're looking for. We're looking for hope in the face of tragedy, both recent and upcoming. This is, by no means, the extent of what's going to happen in the world.

Isaiah 40:30-31 says, "But those who trust in the Lord will find new strength. They will soar high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint." Even when we feel like we can't go on, we can. We keep our heads held high, we walk in the light, we do not succumb to the darkness, and we become the bearers of hope.

In light of the Boston Marathon bombing, Facebook exploded with a post from Patton Oswalt (actor/comedian). In it, he said this:

"You watch the videos of the carnage and there are people running TOWARDS the destruction to help out. [...] This is a giant planet and we're lucky to live on it but there are prices and penalties incurred for the daily miracle of existence. One of them is, every once in awhile, the wiring of a tiny sliver of the species gets snarled and they're pointed towards darkness. 

But the vast majority stands against that darkness and, like white blood cells attacking a virus, they dilute and weaken and eventually wash away the evil doers and, more importantly, the damage they wreak. This is beyond religion or creed or nation. We would not be here if humanity were inherently evil. We'd have eaten ourselves alive long ago. 

So when you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, 'The good outnumber you, and we always will.'"

It's incredible how an intense positive spirit and attitude can overcome even the most tragic of events. During school shootings, we've had heroes who kept their students safe or even those who have taken a bullet for others. In bombings, we've had not just police and firefighters help out, but garden variety human beings with little to no training who just want to help in any way they can. You cannot fight evil with evil. You can only overcome evil with good, and that's straight out of the bible as well...

Romans 12:21 says "Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." It's easy to allow ourselves to get stuck in the mire of sadness and tragedy but never forget that we can rise above, move forward, and create a better life. One person can't change the world but, working together, we can overcome our own personal hatreds and maybe that can usher in a little more of God's Kingdom right here on earth. When Jesus taught us to pray in Matthew 6, it was for exactly that purpose:

"...Your Kingdom come; Your will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven."

This doesn't mean "let's get out of this place and get to Heaven"... it means "let's bring a slice of Heaven down here on Earth until the time comes when we CAN be in Heaven".

All we can do is our own part, each and every day.

Help people.
Heal people.
Pray for people.
Listen to people.
Spend time with people.
Smile at people.

And, above all else, love people... even when they've given you no reason to do so.

Stephanie Jean

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Wonder Word Powers ACTIVATE!

"You are a beautiful and unique creature, and I think you are pretty incredible."

"You're a stupid jerk who can't ever do anything right."

In case you've never really thought of it before now (and many of us haven't), your words have power. No, you can't speak some words and have an entire universe come to life, but you can most certainly feel the difference between the two sentences above. Each of them elicits a distinct emotion, and each of them has the power to bring you up or bring you down.

Take a look at bullying for a moment. I'm not talking about the guy who shoves you down and takes your milk money because he's bigger than you are. I'm talking about the people in your life who bring you down because of what they have to say about you. The ones who never compliment you. The ones who tell you things about yourself that you already feel insecure about. The ones who point out your flaws. The ones who make themselves big by making you small with their words. That kind of bully. 

Now take a look at someone in your life that you always feel good when you're around. The person who encourages you, who stands up for you, who smiles and reassures you. The person who can brighten your day with just a word -- whether it's a funny joke, a sincere compliment on your outfit or your hair, or a statement of gratitude just for you being YOU.

Words have power. And we tend to brush over that fact because we don't want it to be true. We want to say what we feel like saying, whether it's to someone else or to ourselves. But our own attitudes reflect the words we have to say about ourselves and our lives. I've often said that negativity breeds negativity, and positivity breeds positivity. You're obviously going to want to hang out with your friend who brings you up with their words way more than you'll want to hang out with a bully who does nothing but make you feel bad about yourself by their words. So why would you be a bully to yourself or to others?

"My life is terrible. Nothing good ever happens. I don't even want to wake up each day. Whenever something good does happen, five more things happen to mess it up. I'm a freak of nature. I'm not good for anything. This is the worst thing that's ever happened to anyone. I hate this."

Nothing in that chunk of words brings hope, joy, or positivity to yourself or to anyone else around you.

"Life is rough but it's certainly better than the alternative! Tomorrow's bound to be better. I can handle this. God's got this. I love a good, therapeutic cry. I accomplished so much today. I'm positive things will turn around. I have some great people in my life. One good thing that happened today was that I got to sleep in! I love Springtime."

Though you can clearly tell by that chunk of words that things aren't perfect, the speaker chose to dwell on the positives rather than the negatives.

Choosing your words can align with choosing your attitude about a situation, conversation, or person. Choosing positivity above negativity is always the best choice we can make. Engaging in negative talk about yourself or another person will only feed into that attitude more and more and we aren't called to be purveyors of sadness or despair. We're called to be joy-bringers, harbingers of hope, and to live love.

In her book "Change Your Words, Change Your Life", Joyce Meyer says this about sowing your words as a harvest to be reaped later:

"...if I talk about lack, sickness, things I am angry about, and problems most of the time, then the 'word seeds' I am sowing will actually produce a harvest of more of the same. On the other hand, if I choose to talk about provision, health, forgiveness, God's goodness, and faithfulness, I am sowing seeds that will produce a good harvest according to the seed I am sowing with my words. A farmer doesn't plant a tomato seed and expect to get broccoli, and we should not plant word seeds of bad things hoping to get a good harvest. Once we truly understand that principle and act accordingly, we can change our words and therefore we can change our lives."

Don't believe it? Don't knock it 'til you try it. Choose a day this week and, for a 24-hour period, don't breathe a word of negativity anywhere -- including to yourself. Speak good things in your mind and from your mouth. Compliment people. Don't think about or talk about people you dislike or, if you do, speak only positive things about them -- bring up only their good points or good hopes for them and their future. Don't point out flaws, but do point out things you like. Bring up your significant other by telling them what you like about them and don't nag them about the things that annoy you. Talk about your day in terms of what went right and talk about tomorrow in terms of what will be better. At the end of the 24 hours, see how you feel -- and see how other people around you feel.

Your words have the power to help someone stand or to knock them down. Your words have the power to help you live or to place your own stumbling block in front of you each and every day. Your words have the power to bring joy, peace, and love into someone's life or to bring misery, strife, and even death to them.

It's all your choice. It's all in your voice. 

Stephanie Jean

Monday, April 1, 2013

New Beginnings... Every Day

I can't tell you how grateful I am for second chances. If it were not for second chances, I wouldn't have graduated high school, or college. I would've have this wonderful husband I've been so blessed with. I wouldn't have any sort of relationship with my parents because I failed so many times growing up, and I would most certainly be doomed spiritually.

But our God is a God of second chances

The bible tells us that He is eternal, that he is all-powerful, all-knowing, all-seeing. It also says that He doesn't change. Those of you who are reading the bible for the first time might see a God of punishment and sacrifice and fear and think, "If this is God, and He doesn't change, I'm scared to death and I don't want anything to do with this!" Here's the thing, though -- in all of His awesomeness, He KNEW we would need second chances, and He wrote that right into the story of creation.

So often, people pick out pieces of the Bible they want to use out of context to validate their own beliefs. That's not how the Word works. The context must be taken into consideration for every single verse, story, law, commandment, miracle, death, and life in the Bible. Each piece is speaking to a specific group of people at a specific time, and while it is all useful for learning purposes, we're not to subscribe to every letter of the law that was once given to a different group of people over two thousand years ago. The overall concept of the Bible is this:

A God who loves His people, ALL of His people, so much that He paid the ultimate sacrifice Himself so that they could have a second chance.

And a third.

And a fiftieth.

And a millionth chance.

The Ten Commandments are great. Do we have to follow them all to get into Heaven? No. Why? Because Jesus came to take on the punishment for our sins and give us the grace and mercy we need to have another chance. And when I say that he wrote it into the story of creation, I mean this: it wasn't a plan B. It wasn't a "Well, let's see if all of humanity can follow every single one of these sacrificial laws, purification laws, food laws, sexual laws, marriage laws, hygiene laws, and this set of commandments. If they can't, I'll have to think of something else." No, He's GOD. He already knew we couldn't. So, in Loving God fashion, He humbled Himself to take on the form of one of us. HE did it for us. He was perfect so we don't have to be. And when we're not, He doesn't want us to hide. He wants us to come to Him. He wants us to learn. He wants us to try. He wants us to love, and to love, and to do nothing but love. 

Matthew 22:36-40 says:

36 “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

In essence, if we're not loving, we're doing it wrong. That sentiment is echoed in I Corinthians 13, that famous love passage that's quoted at weddings, on inscriptions, posted on Facebook pages -- the beginning of the passage is not as often read and, when read, not often understood. 

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 -- If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast,but do not have love, I gain nothing.

Basically, nothing you say, nothing you are, nothing you do matters if it doesn't come from a place of love.  The Pharisees were awesome at nitpicking the law into tiny little shreds, doing things right down to the letter, making a big show of all the money they donated -- and they're the ones Jesus railed against the most, because nothing they did came out of a place of love. It didn't matter how much money they gave or how perfectly they followed the rules. They were self-centered, judgmental hypocrites and Jesus gave them nothing but grief the entire time He walked the planet. News flash: He feels the same way about modern-day hypocrites, because He doesn't change. 

So, here we are, the day after Easter, with a choice to make. Am I going to sit here, still full of ham and potatoes and gravy, and keep living my life the same way I did before I knew that I had a second chance? Or am I going to give myself wholeheartedly over to the knowledge that there is a Good God, so Good that He would go to death and back for me, to rescue me when I fall down? It's a choice we have on a daily basis. 

We fail. We fail miserably. We fail every day. We fail in every way possible. And He reaches down, picks us up, brushes us off, wraps us in a hug, and sends us on our way. 

Two things we're supposed to do: love God and love each other

Yes, it's hard. 

That's why I thank God every day for second chances.

Stephanie Jean